Romans 7 Arguments
Romans 7:14-25 “14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”
The Christian Experience
The Christian Experience
The Shift to the present tense
In 7:1-13 Paul describes his pre-Christian experience with the law and sin. In this section he uses 9 past tense verbs. But Paul dramatically changes verb tenses in verses 14-25 to the present tense. In this section a present tense first person verb is used 26 times. Such a grammatical choice was deliberate and the best argument for this choice is that Paul is describing his current regenerate experience.
Vs 25b - Paul’s anticlimactic conclusion
If Paul was describing a pre-Christian experience in these verses, we would expect this section to conclude with a climactic proclamation of victory that we see in Romans 7:25a “25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” But Paul goes on in 25b to describe the conflict between his mind that serves the law of God and his flesh that serves the law of sin.
The regenerate understanding of the law and the heart
In these verses there is a desire (vv 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21) to keep God’s law. In vs 22 Paul describes a joyful agreeing with the law in his inner man. This is the delight of the blessed man (Ps 1:2, Ps 119:14, 16, 35) that is more than a mere zeal for the law. This internal attitude points to a heart that has been regenerated, that is caused by God to walk in His statutes. Those who are in the flesh do not rejoice in God’s law but are hostile to God and do not subject themselves to His law (Rom 8:7).
Paul also reflects on his own heart in a way that an unregenerate man would not. Romans 7:18 “18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.” “ This is an enlightened self-assessment that doesn’t sound like the self-righteous, self-confident, pre-conversion Saul. He saw himself as blameless before the law (Phil 3:6). This sounds like a man who came to know that he was dead in his sin. Furthermore, he makes this qualification, “in my flesh”, that describes the post-conversion state of the Christian. Before regeneration we are only flesh, merely human.
The Already-not yet tension
Romans 6-8 is filled with an already but not yet tension that is anticipating the final reality of glorification. In Romans 6 Paul declares that the believer is united in Christ and therefore dead to sin and its slavery (6:6). But later in the chapter he commands the saints to not let sin reign in their bodies (6:12), present the members of their body to sin (6:13). We have been liberated from the dominion of the sin, but in this already-not yet state there is still a war we must wage to not let sin reign over us. This tension of being freed from sins mastery and yet having to actively kill sin and daily fight to not let it reign naturally leads to the tension in Romans 7:14-25. In 7:24-25 Paul describes the believer’s longing for future deliverance and hope of that deliverence coming from God through Christ Jesus. This deliverence is from the “body of death”. This redemption from the physical body corrupted by the sin nature is not obtained when we believe, or as we are sanctified, but at the resurrection from the dead. And this is the natural flow of Paul’s argument into Romans 8 where the climax of his point ends on the hope of future glorification (8:10-11, 30).
Gal 5 Connection
There is continuity between the argument in 7:14-25 and Gal 5:16-18, “16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” There is this presence of sinful desires that the believer still struggles with and is able to defeat by walking by the Spirit. It’s the presence of these sinful desires that plagues Paul’s daily walk in Romans 7:14-25.
The Pre-Christian Experience
The Pre-Christian Experience
In Romans 7:5-6 there is this contrast between the past life in the flesh leading to the fruit of death and the new life where we are freed from the law having died with Christ (chapter 6), so that we now serve in the newness of the Spirit. The following verses of chapter 7 then describe further the situation portrayed in Romans 7:5 where sin and death dominate the fleshly person who is under the law. And then, in Romans 8:1-17 the life of the person who is freed from the law to walk in newness is described. This contrast is highlighted by the triumphant verse of Rom 8:1, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This structure is seen as follows:
A Life under the law: Unregenerate experience described (7:5)
B Life in the Spirit: Regenerate experience described (7:6)
A´ Life under the law elaborated (7:7–25)
B´ Life in the Spirit elaborated (8:1–17)
The second structural argument deals with the connection between vs. 13 and 14. The word, “for” in verse 14 functions as a grounds to further explain the argument of verse 13 where Paul denies that the law itself is sinful and responsible for the death of sinners, but instead sin itself. There seems to be no logical break in Paul’s argument from vs 13 to 14.
Counter argument to present tense verb change
The reason Paul changes to present tense verbs in vs 14-25 is that he is vividly stressing the condition or state of the person who is still enslaved to the law. He moves from narrative argumentation in verses 7-11 to personal experience in vs 14-25 in order to convict the Jews that he is arguing against.
Romans 8 contrast
There is such a dramatic contrast between the experience Paul writes of in 7:14-25 and what he writes of in 8:1-17 that it is difficult to believe that he is describing the Christian experience in both passages. The word “now” emphatically makes this contrast between the regenerate experience in chapter 8 and the unregenerate in chapter 7.
No mention of the holy spirit
There is no explicit mention of the Spirit’s work of regeneration or sanctification in 7:14-25. Any argument for such thoughts comes out of inference. In contrast, the Spirit is mentioned 9 times in chapter 8. Therefore person in 7:14-25 who attempts to but fails to keep God’s law lacks the power of the Spirit of God.
Jewish zeal for the law
The pious Jew would have had a delight in God’s law, even though they would be unable to keep it. Paul writes in Rom 9:31-32, pursued the law, but not by faith. They were those who have a zeal for God (Rom 10:2) but not in accordance to knowledge - a knowledge that comes from the illumination of the Spirit.
Paul says in verse 14 that he is of the flesh, in bondage to sin - hypo ten hamartian - under sin. Paul has used this exact phrase to describe both Jews and Greeks in Rom 3:9 “9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin;” and therefore accountable to God and deserving of His judgement. Other Pauline phrases using the preposition “under - hypo” most often describe the state of non believers before coming to Christ, with the exception of the phrase “under grace” (see 1 Cor 9:20; Gal 3:19, 22-23, 25; Gal 4:2-5, 21; Gal 5:18).
Similarly, the depth of defeat described in 7:14-25 seems to contradict what Paul teaches in Romans 6, that saints are dead to sin and no longer slaves to it. Sin’s tyranny has been broken and they are now free. How then could Paul say in 7:14 that the saint is “of flesh…sold into bondage to sin”